The National Institutes of Health announced today that Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center together are one of six new sites being launched for its Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program (BCERP). This latest phase of the NIH program will focus on prevention and add to the growing knowledge of environmental and genetic factors that may influence breast cancer risk across the lifespan.
The Columbia Mailman School and Columbia University Medical Center site is led by Dr. Mary Beth Terry, professor of epidemiology, and Dr. Rachel Miller, professor of medicine (pediatrics) and environmental health sciences. Dr. Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) cohort also will play a key role in advancing the research at the new program.
The Columbia researchers will partner across scientific disciplines, involve the community in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx and expand the study of risk factors that precede breast cancer, such as breast density in mothers and their adolescent daughters. This new direction reflects recommendations made by the congressionally mandated Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee in 2013, including prioritizing prevention, involving transdisciplinary research teams, engaging public stakeholders, collaborating across federal agencies, and communicating the science to the public.
The announcement by NIH noted that the focus on minority and socio-economically disadvantaged women is an important step in addressing disparities in breast cancer outcomes. Although African-American women are diagnosed with breast cancer less often than white women, more aggressive cancers and breast cancer deaths are more common among African-American women. Another new direction for the program is research on the role of breast density as a possible intermediate risk factor for breast cancer.
Dr. Terry has over 15 years of experience leading breast cancer studies on the role that genetics, epigenetics, and other biomarkers play in modifying the effects of environmental exposures. She currently leads four other NIH grants that focus on cancer risk within families and has authored or co-authored over 200 scientific publications. Dr. Miller concentrates her research on the mechanisms of environmental pollutants on multiple complex diseases. Her focus here includes the impact of air pollution exposure, and inhaled polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) specifically, on epigenetic changes in genes in the mouse breast tissue and blood that may be important to breast cancer risk.
“These priorities reflect our continued commitment to breast cancer prevention,” noted Dr. Caroline Dilworth, BCERP program lead at NIEHS. “Our goal is to build on the high quality science we’ve been funding for more than a decade, while also being responsive to the expert recommendations of the IBCERCC report.”
The six BCERP projects, plus a new coordinating center promoting cross-project collaboration, are jointly funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Cancer Institute Grant Numbers: U01ES026130, U01ES026137, U01ES026122, U01ES026132, U01ES026119, U01ES026140, U01ES026127.